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NFL Power Rankings: What Is the Best Franchise of the Last 20 Years?

Robert FerringoContributor IIIAugust 21, 2012

NFL Power Rankings: What Is the Best Franchise of the Last 20 Years?

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    We still have a few weeks before the regular season starts so I thought I would do something a little different with my NFL Power Rankings this week.

    Instead of just rating the NFL’s 32 franchises based on where they stand in the current league hierarchy, I thought I would dig back a little deeper and produce a ranking of how each franchise has performed over the last 20 years.

    I arbitrarily considered the period of 1992-2011 for no other reason than it was an even 20 seasons. And during that time I had two other ground rules:

    1. I docked the expansion teams for not having a full 20 years. That’s fair.
    2. I didn’t lend any more weight to teams having success in the last five or 10 years. (I know that these days no one seems to remember things that happened more than five minutes ago, but the fact is a conference title won in 1994 or 1997 was just as difficult—if not more—to win than one in 2010.)

    I tried to mix in empirical data along with my more subjective view from a fan’s perspective, as in, “How enjoyable would it have been to be a fan of this team over the last 20 years?” I continually came back to one central question throughout putting this together: is it better to be a fan of a team that is continually good and annually competitive but that never quite makes it over the hump, or is it better to be a fan of a team that has a couple great years but then is mostly terrible the rest of the time?

    The perfect comparison is a Titans fan versus a Rams fan. Tennessee has been exceptionally consistent and very successful over the last 20 regular seasons. But they only made one Super Bowl and they lost. The Rams have been pathetic and mostly irrelevant for most of the last 20 years. But for about a four-year stretch they were incredible, winning one Super Bowl title and two conference championships.

    So which is better? I suppose that debate is at the heart of these power rankings, and you’ll see how things could have played out differently for one or two franchises over the past two decades if The Big Game had just gone a little differently. 

    With all that in mind, here are my NFL Power Rankings for franchises over the last 20 years:

32. Cleveland Browns

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 98-174 (17 Seasons)

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 2

    Playoff Record: 1-2

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 3

     

    LeBron broke Cleveland’s heart once. The Browns have been doing it for decades.

    Cleveland has had, ahem, a tough go of it over the past 20 years. The worst part was suffering the indignity of having their team relocate to Baltimore, only to watch their former lads go on to win a Super Bowl.

    The Browns had to rebuild from scratch after three long years with a silent Dawg Pound, but you can argue that with just a 68-140 record since returning to Cleveland in 1999 the Browns may have caused less pain and suffering for this fan base than if they hadn’t come back at all.

31. Houston Texans

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 65-95

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 1

    Playoff Record: 1-1

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 4

     

    The Texans have only been in existence for 10 years so this is as high as they could possibly go. I’m not counting any of the Oilers stats for them because, well, I’m following the NFL’s lead.

    Houston is glad to have a team in its city, but the Texans have mostly stunk since their inception.

    Last year marked their first postseason appearance—that took a lot longer than the other expansion franchises of the past two decades. You could even argue Houston would still be without a postseason appearance if Peyton Manning hadn’t been injured.

30. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 111-209

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 3

    Playoff Record: 0-3

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 7

     

    It's kind of an upset the Bengals haven’t been the worst team during this stretch, but it’s true.

    They have had four or less total wins in eight of the last 20 years and not a single playoff win. Yet they aren’t responsible for any of the worst seasons in that time frame (their bottom was a 2-14 mark in 2002), and they have actually been more than solid under oft-maligned Marvin Lewis.

    They’ve finished at .500 or better in six of the last nine years despite playing in one of the toughest divisions in football. That said, they're still the "Bungles" and they went just 50-110 from 1992-2001. So there’s that.

29. Detroit Lions

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 129-191

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 6

    Playoff Record: 1-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 7

     

    Even with an 0-16 season on the books, the Lions have still won 18 more games than the Bengals over the last 20 years and have been to the playoffs twice as much—Matt Millen be damned!

    Yet Detroit has maxed out at just 10 wins over the last 20 years, and they have only accomplished that three times.

    Detroit has won five games or less in 10 of the last 20 years and has just one lone playoff win to their credit.

28. Arizona Cardinals

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 124-196

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 3

    Playoff Record: 5-3

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 6

     

    The Cardinals get credit for going to a Super Bowl once over the last 20 years and for pulling one of the biggest upsets in playoff history by slamming the door on the Dallas dynasty of the 90s.

    But that’s about all they've done right.

    Their six years at .500 or better are the least in the NFL, and only three of those years were actually above the break-even mark. In fact, Arizona has won 10 games just one time in the last 35 years, so—outside of that NFC title—they really haven’t been anything better than a laughing stock.

27. Washington Redskins

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 136-184

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 4

    Playoff Record: 3-4

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 9

     

    The Redskins probably would have been a top five franchise in the 20 years preceding our time frame, but the fact is this once-proud organization has been run into the ground. Each year, it just gets sadder and a little more pathetic watching them try to reclaim their former glory.

    Which is higher: the number of quarterbacks that have led the Redskins in passing over the last 20 years or the amount of wins in their best season during that time? The answer is quarterbacks, 11 to 10.

    Washington has hit double-digits in wins just twice in two decades and never more wins than that.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 138-134

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 6

    Playoff Record: 5-6

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 9

     

    You can make an argument that the Jaguars should be ahead of the Panthers. Jacksonville is above .500 in their 17 seasons and have two more playoff appearances, but Carolina gets the nod because they have an NFC Championship and more division titles (three to two) during that run.

    Jacksonville does get credit for having incredible stability and continuity for an expansion franchise; they have had only three different coaches and four different leading passers in 17 years.

25. Carolina Panthers

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    Overall Regular Season Record:125-147

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 4

    Playoff Record: 6-4

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 7

     

    Carolina is another expansion team so they get penalized for playing in only 17 of the last 20 years. Honestly though, outside of their Super Bowl loss (which was a massive, mostly ignored choke job), the Panthers don’t have much to crow about.

    They have finished at or above .500 in less than half their seasons with 1-15 and 2-14 seasons to their name as well. They do get credit for their winning playoff record (6-4) though.

24. Oakland Raiders

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 139-181

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 4

    Playoff Record: 5-4

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 10

     

    This actually seems high to me for Oakland, but they deserve to be ahead of the Redskins because the Raiders have played in a Super Bowl. Oakland is ahead of Carolina and Jacksonville solely because those two expansion teams missed three seasons in our 20-year time frame.

    Oakland went 41-23 during a nice four-year run with underrated Rich Gannon at quarterback, but this team has had nine different coaches in 20 seasons and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2002.

    In fact, Oakland had a run of seven straight years with five wins or less from 2003 to 2009 and was off the rails for most of the end of Al Davis’ life.

23. Chicago Bears

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 151-169

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 5

    Playoff Record: 4-5

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 8

     

    The Bears are one of the charter members of the NFL and one of the most venerable organizations in sports. But they really haven’t been a good franchise over the past two decades.

    Their saving grace is an NFC Championship in 2006 to go with four division titles. That doesn’t change the fact from 1996 to 2004 they only finished above .500 one time, or that they have had 13 different quarterbacks lead the team in passing over the past 20 years. And yes, the immortal Chad Hutchinson was one of them.

22. Seattle Seahawks

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    Overall Regular Season Record:150-170

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 7

    Playoff Record: 5-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 10

     

    “You’re like the honeydew in the fruit salad. You know? Nobody likes the honeydew. But you need it there ‘cause it fills up space.” Seattle is just kind of there.

    They have had 10 or more wins just three times and five or fewer wins just three times. The other 14 years they have simply existed as a paradigm of mediocrity.

    They did make the playoffs five straight seasons under the guidance of an extremely underrated Holmgren-Hasselbeck brain trust.

    I know this fan base is still bitter about their controversial loss to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but that’s what happens to the honeydew—it gets tossed in the trash and no one cares.

21. St. Louis Rams

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 130-190

    Super Bowl Record: 1-1

    Playoff Appearances: 5

    Playoff Record: 6-4

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 6

     

    OK, here is the power of winning a Super Bowl in these rankings. If it weren’t for St. Louis’ title (and their other NFC Championship banner) this would be one of the four or five worst teams in football over that span.

    They have won five or less games a whopping eight times in 20 years and they are a pathetic 15-65 over the last five seasons. Yes, they had The Greatest Show on Turf, and that group accounted for nearly half of St. Louis’ win total in just a five-year period. But they also squandered some of the most talented teams of their era and have absolutely nothing to brag about outside the time from 1999-2004.

20. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 168-152

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 8

    Playoff Record: 2-8

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 12

     

    Kansas City is basically the Seattle Seahawks of the AFC—which is moderately ironic because the Seahawks used to play in the same division as the Chiefs in the AFC West.

    The Chiefs have just kind of been hanging around for the last 20 years. In fact, outside of a putrid 10-38 mark from 2007-2009 the Chiefs have won 58 percent of their games.

    They have played in eight postseasons and have been .500 or better a solid 12 times, but they have just two playoff wins and have never really threatened to make a Super Bowl run. The closest they came was a 1993 loss to Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game. Beyond that, nada. 

19. New York Jets

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 150-170

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 7

    Playoff Record: 7-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 13

     

    The Jets are the manic-depressives of the NFL. They have moments where they look like they have things figured out and a solid foundation for the future—but you turn your head for one second and they are hiring Al Groh or putting their fate in the hands of Brooks Bollinger.

    New York’s seven postseason wins are the most of any team on this list outside of the Top 10. But can you really say the Jets have been a factor in the league over the last 20 years?

    Outside of their 12-4 team in 1998, they have never had a great team. And you can’t ignore the Bruce Coslet and Rich Kotite eras in which the Jets bumbled to a 22-58 mark over five years, including going 1-15 in 1996.

    I can’t tell if this is too high or too low.

18. Atlanta Falcons

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 155-165

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 7

    Playoff Record: 4-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 9

     

    This franchise has certainly seen its share of ups and downs over the last 20 years.

    They have an NFC title to their credit (and a Super Bowl loss), but not really much else.

    Atlanta hadn’t had back-to-back seasons at .500 or better until 2005 and had some really lean years mixed in. They also had to deal with the stunning Mike Vick fiasco, but somehow managed to weather that storm and come out even stronger on the other side.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 167-153

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 9

    Playoff Record: 5-9

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 14

     

    I know that this seems high for a franchise that hasn’t really been relevant for a decade and a team that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in almost 30 years, but Miami had 12 straight (and 13 of 14) seasons of .500 or better records during our time frame.

    Unfortunately, they never won more than one playoff game in any of their nine postseasons. But you can’t argue that this was one of the better franchises in the league for the entirety of the 90s. 

16. Buffalo Bills

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 153-167

    Super Bowl Record: 0-2

    Playoff Appearances: 6

    Playoff Record: 6-6

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 9

     

    I’m sure this one is even more of a stunner than having Miami at No. 17, but what bails the Bills out is that 1992 and 1993 were right at the end of their run of four straight Super Bowls—those two AFC titles are propping them up.

    Their numbers are virtually identical to Atlanta’s over this time frame, but, again, the Bills have two banners to the Falcons’ one. And while I can put Miami ahead of Chicago and Atlanta because of their consistency, I can’t put a team that has zero Super Bowl appearances ahead of a team with two.

    Thanks to the Flutie Curse, though, Buffalo hasn’t had 10 or more wins since 1999 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1995.

15. Tennessee Titans

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 174-146

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 8

    Playoff Record: 5-8

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 14

     

    This was another really difficult team to place, and it begs the initial question as to whether it is better to be pretty good for a long span of time or to be great for a short period and then terrible for a long period.

    Tennessee has won 10 or more games eight times in the last 20 years and has lost less than six games just three times. They’ve been good—but unfortunately for their fan base, just “good”—almost every single year. And they, like San Diego, really suffer because they just happened to be stuck in the middle of the Colts and Patriots through their incredible runs.

14. San Diego Chargers

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 166-154

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 8

    Playoff Record: 6-8

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 15

     

    If I were making a list ranking teams based on how many times they have been picked in the preseason to go to the Super Bowl, the Chargers would be No. 1. But San Diego has just one lone Super Bowl loss (you forgot about 1994, didn’t you!) to go with a lot of unfulfilled expectations over the last 20 years.

    The Chargers posted eight straight seasons of .500 or better, and if it weren’t for that bizarre 1-15 year in 2000 (thank you, Ryan Leaf) then San Diego’s overall numbers would be even better. They also get credit for having some really good, high-end regular season teams, even if those teams never got to the mountaintop.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    If it weren’t for Tampa’s blowout win over Oakland in Super Bowl 37, this team would be in the mid-20s as a franchise—at best.

    They went to six straight playoffs from 1997-2002, but beyond that this has been a pretty bad organization.

    They actually started out just 29-51 in the first five years we tallied before Tony Dungy was able to turn the team around. But since Sapp, Lynch, Brooks, and Dunn left the beach, this team has been struggling to find an identity and struggling to reach its—limited—past glory.

12. Minnesota Vikings

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 174-148

    Super Bowl Record: 0-0

    Playoff Appearances: 11

    Playoff Record: 6-11

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 15

     

    This is the highest-ranking team that hasn’t made the Super Bowl over the last 20 years. I’m sure this ranking raises some eyebrows, but were it not for some fantastic/heartbreaking postseason collapses, the Vikings might be a Top Five franchise over this period.

    They made the playoffs in eight of nine years from 1992 to 2000 and were an incredible 92-52 during that period. But whether it was Gary Anderson’s miss, their flop in the Meadowlands, or Favre’s interception, the Vikings have perfected choking in the biggest of playoff moments.

    Say what you want about Denny Green, but the reality is this organization hasn’t been the same since he left.

11. New Orleans Saints

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 159-161

    Super Bowl Record: 1-0

    Playoff Appearances: 6

    Playoff Record: 6-5

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 11

     

    New Orleans has really solidified its resume over the last several years and atoned for a lot of mediocrity in the 90s. The Saints not only survived (barely) Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, but have thrived, going 62-34 in the six years since the 3-13 season that followed the natural disaster.

    Drew Brees and Co. have carved out a legacy and have made people forget about those weird, bizarre, nonsensical Aaron Brooks-Jim Haslett years as well as the Mike Ditka fiasco.

    Again, this ranking shows my respect for the ring. The Saints have been half the franchise the Vikings have over the past 20 years, but one has a title and the other doesn’t. The Saints get the edge.

10. Baltimore Ravens

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 140-113

    Super Bowl Record: 1-0

    Playoff Appearances: 8

    Playoff Record: 10-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 10

     

    Yes, the Ravens are in the Top 10 despite only being around for 16 of the 20 years we’ve covered. The reason is simple: they have been excellent for nearly their entire existence.

    Baltimore has been at .500 or better in 10 of 16 years and has made the postseason eight times. They have enjoyed an unprecedented run of incredible defense, finishing in the top three in yards allowed eight times in 13 years. They have 10 playoff wins, a Super Bowl win and general manager Ozzie Newsome will keep the roster stocked for years to come.

    They probably would’ve been a Top Five franchise if they had existed for all 20 years.

9. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 181-139

    Super Bowl Record: 0-1

    Playoff Appearances: 12

    Playoff Record: 12-12

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 15

     

    This is the highest ranking for any team that hasn’t won a Super Bowl and the Eagles have only played in one. They are only ranked ahead of Baltimore because they've been around all 20 years.

    They have also made the playoffs in 12 of the last 20 years and have been at .500 or better in 15 of 20 seasons—that is what gives them such separation from Tennessee.

    I’m not sure if making four NFC Championship games make their run more or less heartbreaking, but they have been a model franchise—minus the title—over the past two decades. They have failed to win eight games only two times in the 13-year Andy Reid era. 

8. San Francisco 49ers

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 176-144

    Super Bowl Record: 1-0

    Playoff Appearances: 10

    Playoff Record: 10-9

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 11

     

    Yeah, it’s been a lean past 10 years for the Niners. From 2003 to 2010 they had eight straight seasons of eight wins or less after Steve Mariucci left. The tail end of their dynasty, though, is included in this 20-year period, beginning with a stretch of seven straight playoff seasons and 11 or more wins in six of those seven years.

    Steve Young’s Super Bowl blowout falls into our time frame as well, and you could make the argument that if I had decided to go back 30 years instead of 20 the 49ers would have been No. 1 on this list.

7. Indianapolis Colts

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 185-135

    Super Bowl Record: 1-1

    Playoff Appearances: 13

    Playoff Record: 11-12

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 15

     

    Just one year before our 20-year window, the Colts were 1-15 and a complete and total joke. Since then they have been outstanding, posting 13 playoff appearances and 15 of 20 seasons at or above .500.

    The Colts made the postseason 11 times over a 12-year span, and—at the height of the Manning era—they posted an absurd 99-29 mark during an eight-year stretch.

    No, the postseason record isn’t thrilling, but the Colts have played in a ton of big games. They have the requisite Super Bowl ring, and they made it to the Big Game twice. 

6. New York Giants

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 169-151

    Super Bowl Record: 2-1

    Playoff Appearances: 9

    Playoff Record: 11-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 13

     

    The Giants are currently one more Super Bowl win away from being a full-fledged dynasty. In the meantime, they'll have to settle for being one of the sport's signature franchises.

    New York’s overall number of wins and playoff appearances is about average, but what really separates the G-Men is how they capitalize when they make the postseason—three Super Bowl trips (winning twice) with just nine playoff appearances.

5. Denver Broncos

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 182-138

    Super Bowl Record: 2-0

    Playoff Appearances: 9

    Playoff Record: 9-7

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 16

     

    The Broncos might be the most underrated franchise in football.

    They won back-to-back titles at the end of John Elway’s illustrious career and have had some great teams. They have also been amazingly consistent in a very erratic AFC West.

    They have only won less than seven games two times in 20 years and never really bottomed out into a rebuilding phase. This team is perpetually competitive and occasionally great.

    You really can’t ask for much more than that out of a team and they have Mike Shanahan—the same guy floundering in Washington right now—to thank for it.

4. Dallas Cowboys

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    Overall Regular Season Record:179-141

    Super Bowl Record: 3-0

    Playoff Appearances: 11

    Playoff Record: 12-8

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 14

     

    The trajectory of this franchise is not good. And on this list, just as in real life, the Cowboys are still dining on what they did 20 years ago. They had a legitimate dynasty within the given period and all of their peripheral statistics stack up with the best in the business.

    However, the Cowboys have only made the postseason four times in the last 12 years. That’s hardly relevant. While they went 10-1 in the postseason during the dynasty days, these guys are just 2-7 since.

    I don’t see any of those numbers changing any time soon.

3. Green Bay Packers

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 203-117

    Super Bowl Record: 2-1

    Playoff Appearances: 14

    Playoff Record: 16-12

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 18

     

    Aaron Rodgers’ recent success has really solidified the Packers mystique among NFL franchises. However, this ranking was really built on the back of Brett Favre, and it really puts just how amazing the guy was in perspective.

    In the 16 years that Favre led the Packers they finished below .500 just once—just ONE time!

    The Packers have not just been successful, they've also been fun to watch—posting a Top 10 offense in 16 of 20 years and a Top 10 defense in nine of 20 seasons.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 204-116

    Super Bowl Record: 2-2

    Playoff Appearances: 14

    Playoff Record: 17-12

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 18

     

    The Steel Curtain has not come down over the last 20 years.

    Pittsburgh is one of just three organizations to average at least 10 wins per season over the last 20 years. They actually have the highest total wins at 204 and an eye-popping 18 of 20 years with eight or more wins. That is ridiculous consistency and excellence.

     

    This team has made the AFC Championship Game six times during that stretch, or roughly once every three years. What fan wouldn’t want that for their team?

     

    The Steelers have defined power football for nearly half a century and just keep getting the job done.

1. New England Patriots

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    Overall Regular Season Record: 200-120

    Super Bowl Record: 3-3

    Playoff Appearances: 13

    Playoff Record: 19-10

    Seasons At Or Above .500: 16

     

    This one was actually a pretty easy call. The Patriots have been to six Super Bowls in 20 years. They built a legitimate dynasty at the turn of the century. They had a 16-0 regular season and near-perfect year on the resume, and they have finished below .500 just one time (2000) over the last 15 years.

    Yeah, I think most fans would take that.

    New England has won 100 games over the last eight years, an average of 12.5 per season, and they are a championship threat going into every season.

    New England had a stretch of 10 straight postseason wins and have gone 19-10 during the time period covered. Those 19 postseason wins are almost more than the bottom eight teams on this list combined!

    There really aren’t enough superlatives to hurl at this franchise, which is actually pretty amazing considering that in the first year we considered, 1992, the Patriots went 2-14 and were in the midst of a half-decade spiral in which they went 19-61 and were the absolute doormat of the league.

    Enter Bill Parcells, master chef, and really the rest is history.

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